The Animal World in Ancient Iran

Although Animals played an important role in ancient Iranian culture, little scholarly attention has been paid to their status and treatment in that period. Zoroastrian literature constitutes a synthesis of the beliefs that Iranians held about the animal world, specifically how they viewed the place and functions of animals in the universe.

Dualism is the most salient feature of Zoroastrian religion that affected all aspects of Iranian civilization during the Sasanian period. According to this dualism the entire universe is divided into two opposing categories of existence: all that is good arises from the creativity of Ohrmazd, the Beneficent Spirit, and all evil emanates from Ahriman, the hostile spirit. Consequently, the animal world is also divided into two distinct sections: the "good" creatures created by Ohrmazd who are sacred and beneficial, and those created by Ahriman who are harmful to man and must be avoided or destroyed.

The beneficial animals are worthy to be sacrificed at special occasions, are edible, play an important part in religious rituals, and are an integral element of myths and legends. Indeed, these creatures inhabit the earth for the purpose of serving man. Thus, there were abundant religious laws and edicts which purported to ensure their proper protection.

The xrafstars or harmful animals were believed to be the descendants of Ahriman, possessing an evil nature and therefore deserved to be eliminated. The original conflict between the two spirits is revealed in the contrasting spirits of nature that is most particularly manifested in the constant struggle between forces of good and evil. The value placed on the beneficial animals and the imperative to face down the harmful creatures of nature must be considered as another manifestation of the struggle. The primary purpose of the struggle is to reestablish the primordial and unpolluted original state of existence.

Mahnaz Moazami
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